Winds of the Spirit: Convergent Friends Workshop (Providence 2007)

As most of you know by now I spent the end of last week in Providence Rhode Island helping with a workshop about convergent Friends.  I wanted to give an overview of what we did there so that those of you who are curious can be in the know.

brainstorming at FWCC

There were four of us who teamed up to pull the workshop off.  David Male and Shawna Roberts, both from Ohio Yearly Meeting were the brains behind the operation.  They thought up the idea to do a workshop at Friends World Committee for Consultation (FWCC), and pulled all the necessary strings to make sure it happened.  Robin and I were in charge of helping guide the conversation at the workshop with our stories of convergence.  Even though Robin and I had never met David and Shawna, our only correspondence was over email and google documents, I think we worked together and got along well.  It showed me how integrated our internet relationships, when they are authentic, can be with our REAL relationships.  They can easily blend together, but only insofar as we are honest in how we represent ourselves online.

The Convergent Workshop

The basic layout for both the workshop on Friday and Saturday looked like this:

First we invited people to come in and sit in a large circle and we asked them why they decided to come to this workshop.  This really helped us get a feel for where people were.  Some people said they wanted to know what “convergent Friends” meant, others said they thought they were convergent and wanted find out for sure, some said they were there because they felt adverse to the idea but hoped that the workshop would help them see it differently.  Many people asked questions about it.

Here are some specific questions we got as we began.  These questions helped to shape the things we talked about.

  • What is convergent Friends? And what is it all about?
  • It sounds like just another attempt to create a melting pot of ideas, is that true?
  • How is it related to the emerging church?
  • What are other branches of the Friends church doing?
  • What is it that makes us Quakers in today’s world?
  • What is some of our cultural baggage that we need to unload?
  • Where do we stand together?
  • What are the old labels that no longer speak or work for us?
  • Are there new ways to talk about these things?
  • What is post-modern?
  • What is the emerging church?

Second, we turned to some silence and introduction by David Male.  David talked about how he came upon my article in Quaker Life while surfing the web this summer, and how it spoke to things he too had been thinking and feeling.  He emailed his friend Shawna and asked her what she thought about it, later she sent David a copy of Robin’s first print article, A Convergence of Friends.  This pretty much led them to invite Robin and I to lead a discussion on the topic.

David Introducing The Workshop

In the third part of the Workshop Robin and I presented briefly on why were we there.  We each took about 10 minutes or so and described a bit of our journeys, how we can to understand convergence and what our perspectives are on the topic.

Some of the basic things I talked about (I hope to blog this in more detail later) focused on my spiritual pilgrimage from Catholicism, to a non-denominational charismatic church to the Evangelical Friends church when I was at Malone College.  I talked a little about my education, and how my doctorate focuses on studying contemporary western culture the way missionaries study foreign cultures.  We do this in hopes of helping our churches engage our world more missionally.

For me the connection between convergent Friends and what I am doing in my study looks like this:

Quaker tradition + emerging church / postmodern culture = convergent Friends

Though this doesn’t sum up all that convergent Friends are about it does encapsulate a important piece of the project.

In the second workshop on Saturday, I talked more about the Kingdom of God and how convergent Friends are a “kingdom movement” within the Friends church – encouraging Kingdom Practices among all Friends.  This can be seen both in our focus on the practices of Jesus and finding signs of the Kingdom within culture, the web, movies, tv, the world and other branches of the Friends church.

We are in the middle of a radically different culture from the one our tradition started in, a culture with radically different questions, ideas and ways of thinking.  All of this requires us to think differently about how we engage the world as God’s missionaries.  The emerging church is one group whose practices and ideology we connect with very closely, and because of this they offer many ideas about how to proceed in the new world.

Robin’s part dealt with her own process of convergence, being a part of Pacific Yearly Meeting, and how she met Friends from various backgrounds first through the web and then through visitations.  In the past year Robin’s gone to places like Friends General Conference Yearly Meeting where she helped lead an interest group on Convergent Friends with Liz Opp (also see here) and Martin Kelley and Newberg (Evangelical) Friends Church in Oregon. Through these various experiences Robin has personally experienced her own convergence and has seen that many Quakers are talking about and asking many of the same questions.

She also spoke about the importance of mission and following Christ into the world, the necessity of beginning with silence and speaking dramatically out of the silence, our history as the ground from which we move forward, that we are called to participate with God in the healing of a the suffering world, and that we as Quakers have very high standards of faith because of those who have gone before us. Finally, she ended by saying that we are not trying to convert people to a different way of thinking but rather building on what is already there.  Robin exhorted everyone that “If you feel these ‘winds of the Spirit’ then rest assured you are not alone.”

And as if that wasn’t enough to wet the palette we spent the fourth part of our conversation in dialogue with the attenders of the gathering.  We opened the floor for people to ask questions, respond, disagree and interact with everyone in the room.  To hear a number of people say they too felt what we had just shared was definitely an wonderful experience and even for those who felt uncomfortable with what we shared I appreciated hearing their concerns and doubts.

One major question that was brought up concerned the nature of the internet and it’s influence on this conversation.  A few people felt that because a majority of what has happened with convergence has happened online we have excluded those who don’t use the web or who don’t have a blog of their own.  Their questions definately touched on some of the issues I recently considered in an article about the global information culture.  And we assured the people there that the web is a vehicle for the conversation, that we are using the strengths of the web to gather but that it is not the only or even primary focus of what we’re trying to accomplish.  In fact, an attender pointed out that the web is only one part of the process and the very fact that we were gathering together to discuss these matters at FWCC shows that we desire to met in person and share these ideas face to face.

Finally, we got to meet everyone afterwards, this was one of my favorite parts of the day.  It’s really wonderful to meet new people, hear wonderful stories and see people connect with ideas we just shared.  The nightmare is always wondering if you go to something like this and share your experiences and people just flat out reject it, but this couldn’t be further from what happened at FWCC this past weekend.  It was really encouraging for me to be there and know that what we’ve been talking about on our blogs and at gatherings like Quaker Heritage Day isn’t isolated to just a few people but that people all over the world are thinking about the same issues.

Overall I had a fabulous time and learned a ton.  I plan to be unpacking my head from this trip for some time and hopefully Kingdom work was done this past weekend.

Convergent Friends Resources
Convergent Friends List-Serve
FWCC Handout
Other Online Bookmarks for convergent Friends

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